By Muhammad Mikail
“Every person has a right to participate fully in their society and be recognised as a person before the law” (UDHR & ICCPR article 16). Yet, as of 2021, an estimated 850 million globally have no official proof of their identity, which is essential to protecting their rights and enabling access to services and opportunities. Around half are children, and most live in lower-income countries in Africa and South Asia. (2021 World Bank Report on ID Coverage).
The Sustainable Development Goal sixteen-target-nine (16.9) by 2030 seeks to “…, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration.” Interpretatively, the target under this goal of the broader SDGs aims to ensure that every person, no matter their background, babies, women, children, IDPs, refugees and people living with disabilities, have official proof that shows who they are and where they live. The mantra of SDG 16 is to ensure inclusion such that individuals can enrol and be issued IDs, have means of being verified from anywhere, and have a sense of belonging and integration into society, a cardinal point to fighting extreme poverty.
So many countries like India (Adhaar), Estonia, Philippines, Turkey, Rwanda, and Kenya (Huduma) recognised the significance of having robust digital identity systems in place to help their country secure their pride of place in today’s increasingly digital global economic sphere, and as a sure way of meeting the needs of their citizens and making life easier for them have successfully enrolled all their citizens into a robust digital identity system.
Aside from providing access to the underserved and unbanked population, mostly domiciled in the rural hard-to-reach areas, to loans and credit facilities more conveniently, a robust digital identity system makes the government’s distribution of fertilisers, agricultural inputs, and subsidies to rural farmers effective by eliminating intermediaries thereby strengthening social accountability and transparency.
In Nigeria, many have some form of identification, from driver’s licenses, passports, National ID numbers and so on, mainly owing to the fragmented nature of the ID ecosystem before now. At various points, Nigerians and legal residents desirous of any of these are subjected to fresh enrolment and biometric captures by these issuing government agencies or agents. As expressed by a vast majority of Nigerians, this system is cumbersome, essentially insecure, weak, and unsuited for the digital era, and most times fails to safeguard people’s rights and data.
To address this, the government of former President Muhammadu Buhari, in a show of commitment and a strong desire to harmonise the existing identification ecosystem, prepared a Strategic Roadmap for Developing Digital Identification in Nigeria. The roadmap was endorsed by the Harmonization Committee on January 31, 2018, and by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) in September 2018. The roadmap highlighted the need for a minimalist, foundational, and eco-system-based approach to identification that can be leveraged to improve service delivery in the country.
Part of the recommendation of the strategic roadmap was to create the Nigeria Digital Identification for Development Project, NDID4D, managed by a team to be supervised by a Project Ecosystem Steering Committee (PESC). The Project Development Objective (PDO) is “increasing the number of persons with a national ID number, issued by a robust and inclusive foundational ID system, that facilitates their access to services”. Similarly, the NDID4D project seeks to address the currently fragmented ID system and boost overall ID coverage and use in Nigeria. This is captured under four components: strengthening the legal and institutional framework, including data protection and privacy; establishing a robust and inclusive foundational ID system, including civil registration; enabling access to services through IDs; and project management and stakeholder engagement.
The Project, whose implementation began in December of 2021, is to, among others, collaborate with all ID-related agencies, ministries, and departments in addressing the challenges millions of Nigerians faced during NIN enrolment, including long processing time, extortions, and administrative errors. It is also mandated to support the FG in the enactment of significant laws, including the Nigeria Data Protection Act, which is the legal framework for the protection of data of citizens in Nigeria, amendment of NIMC, NPC Acts to ensure digitisation and harmonisation of civil registry with the National Identity database, the cybercrimes and cybersecurity Acts, as well laws that protect electronic transactions in collaboration with the Office of the National Security Adviser. In the same vein, the project supports upgrading the National Identity Management Commission, National Population Commission infrastructures, and human capital development and ensures effective engagement of all relevant stakeholders in the ID ecosystem.
These will go a long way in strengthening the National Identification Number and widening the NIN issuance and enrolment net such that every Nigerian and legal resident, including women, PWDs, children, refugees, migrants and IDPs, can enrol, be issued NIN, and can have access to services. Aside from the NIN becoming the single most important form of ID required in Nigeria, the marginalised, underserved, and vulnerable groups, women, children, refugees, migrants, and IDPs will be saved from discrimination and exclusion.
This was echoed by the acting Director General of the National Identity Management Commission NIMC, Engr, Abisoye Coker-Odusote, recently. She said, “In the digital age, integrated identity is the backbone of e-governance initiatives.” According to her, an integrated identity system will strengthen the government’s fiscal management and promote good governance and transparency through inclusivity and social equality. It ensures that marginalised and vulnerable populations are not excluded from government services.
The significance of a robust, inclusive digital identity system that enables access to services where every Nigerian has a NIN linked to every aspect of life: banking, communications, employment, security, healthcare, education, and social services is too huge to overlook. The issue of digital identity in ensuring inclusion is critical for Nigeria.
Inclusion is a fundamental aspect of a thriving society, and Nigeria’s Digital Identity system plays a crucial role in achieving this. As citizens, we must recognise the importance of having a digital identity and actively participate to ensure no one is left behind.
The government must also ensure that the new data protection law protects citizens’ data. To achieve all these, the Nigerian government, critical stakeholders, ID ecosystem partners, traditional institutions, including civil society, and the private sector must work with the National Identity Management Commission and the Nigeria Digital Identification for Development Project to ensure no Nigerian and legal resident in the country is excluded from the ID ecosystem. By doing so, we will be on a clear path to a more just, inclusive, equitable, peaceful, and economically prosperous Nigeria for all.
Muhammad Mikail writes from Abuja, Nigeria, and could be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.